Here's the next installment of our Metallum Nocturne story.  If you need to catch up on any of the previous episodes, click here.

Episode Twenty-Nine

"I like your new hair color," said Elle, sliding into the private booth at Eggtastic, a breakfast place on the edge of the ninth ward.  "The pink was great too, but you look like you're the lead singer of a heavy metal band now."

"Thanks," said Claire, cradling her coffee between two hands.  She felt more nervous about her meeting than she had the first time.  Lamar's suggestions about making her sympathetic seemed easier in his office.  Getting people to like her had never been a strength.  She'd always barged forward towards her goals, sometimes stepping on toes in the process. 

"I like your nail colors."

Elle held up her hands, showing the yellow and black strips.  They matched her bright yellow dress and black handbag.  Claire's fingernails were chipped and short from years in the foundry and gym. 

"I was inspired by a bumblebee that got into my apartment this morning," she said, smiling. 

The waitress appeared and Elle gave her order of black coffee with two creams, two eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns.  Claire found herself studying Elle's features as if that might give her a clue to befriending her.  She had a heart-shaped face and hazel eyes that sparkled as if they contained glitter.  Shoulder length blonde hair had been meticulously coifed to frame her face.  Claire could imagine Elle on the nightly news.

"Thank you for that flattering article.  It was nice to read something positive, rather than the stuff my classmates repeat to me from the Herald."

"My editor tells me it’s our most popular story for the year."  Elle's tongue rested on the bottom of her teeth.  "I assume you wanted to meet to tell me about what happened with Simon Ivankov?"

"Simon?  Is he the leader of the Terrors?"

Elle pulled out her notebook and opened it to a fresh page, then added her recording device, clicking the red button on the side.

"Let's do that again.  We're on the record now.  Could you repeat what you said."

"Is Simon...whatever his last name was, is he the leader of the Terrors?"

"Yes, Simon Ivankov.  Was this your first time meeting him?"

"I'd never heard of him until this moment."

Elle scribbled in the notebook while Claire admired her perfect penmanship. 

"Why don't you tell me what happened that day."

Claire was getting used to telling this story.  Since it was the third time, she kept skipping things that Elle detected and had her go back and repeat.  When they got to the church in the fourth ward and the part where she was shot, Claire held up her hand.

"Can this next part be off the record?"

Elle's hand hovered over the small device.  "Why?"

"Personal medical issue that has nothing to do with the events."

"That's fair." 

She clicked off the recorder and set her pen by the notebook and folded her hands at the edge of the table. 

"There were several reports on social media that you were shot.  Simon's henchman fired three shots and only two holes were found in the casket.  They said you flinched as if you were hit."

"I was."

Elle straightened.  "You were?  I assume those reports were incorrect.  You were seen running from the church unharmed."

"I'm going to show you this but you can't tell anyone, or write about it.  You're only the third person I've shown, and the other two are my lawyer and my best friend."

"Off the record, as you said.  Not to be used."

Claire checked to make sure the waitress wasn't coming to check on them before lifting the side of her oversized hoodie.  Elle gasped and immediately leaned forward to brush the dark metal striations.  Her touch was cool and tickled slightly.

"What is that?"

"As far as I know, dark metal.  It happened after the explosion.  The bullet hit one of these, which is why I was able to run away unharmed."

"Merlin's tits, Claire.  That's amazing," she said, eyes alight as she continued to stroke the black metal in her skin.  "It's not dangerous is it?"

"I wish I knew.  Dark metal is hard to come by and as far as I know I'm only the second person to ever have a dark metal explosion."

"The other?"

"The original Metallum Nocturne patron."

Elle returned to her seat, letting Claire pull down her shirt. 

"He died afterwards, didn't he?"

"Yeah," said Claire, deciding not to tell Elle about the diary she'd found.  It didn't have anything to do with the case.  "There's one other thing I'd like you to keep secret."

Elle's finger hovered over the red button.  "And?"

"Terrance's name and shop.  I don't want to get him in trouble.  He's in a bad enough way already."

"Where's he at now?"

"I haven't heard from him since I left him in the church closet.  None of the online reports mentioned the Terrors taking him, or anything like that, so I'm hopeful that he got away."

Elle rested the end of her pen on her bottom lip as she glanced away.  Using a hooked finger, she tucked hair behind her ear.  Claire noticed her floral perfume. 

"I can't promise that I won't mention him.  It was his mistakes that got you caught up in that mess with the Terrors.  You're lucky to be alive."

"Elle, please..."

"That's not how this works, Claire.  I'm sorry.  You don't get to dictate what I write about.  I promise I'll do my best, but a lot will depend on what I dig up about Terrance and his shop, Pawned Power.  Sure, a lot of regular people get mixed up with criminal elements that never did anything wrong, but a fair number have shady pasts."

Claire's stomach twisted.  Talking about him to a reporter felt like betrayal. 

"Is there anything I can do to change your mind?  Terrance is my friend.  He went out on a limb for me when I needed the dark metal the first time.  I owe him."

The waitress appeared with two plates of breakfast, hesitating when she sensed the tension.  Elle smiled congenially and moved her notebook out of the way. 

"I'll avoid mentioning Terrance and his shop by name if you promise me full, unfettered access to anything and everything I want to know about," said Elle.

"Like, how unfettered?"

"If you kissed a girl in eighth grade, I want to know about it.  My editor has given me full reign to run with your story.  I plan on giving the city everything they want to know about you.  By the time this is over, the Blocks will look like the villains."

A knot formed in her throat.  Claire found it hard to swallow.  "Everything?"

"I can't sell your story if I don't have the messy bits.  People can sense a manufactured narrative.  They hate it when they find out the people they follow are fake.  Are you going to be able to do that?"

Claire grabbed a piece of bacon, snapped off an end and shoved it into her mouth.  The brittle shards melted over her tongue. 

"You know that game Truth or Dare?"

"Of course."

"I never picked Truth.  I'd rather stick my head in a sink full of ice water than tell people about myself.  That's why I love the foundry.  It's just me and a big pot of metal, creating something new and interesting."

"Is that a no?"

"No.  Or not a no."  Claire screwed up her face.  "I'll give you access is what I mean.  Even if it hurts."

"You don't seem sure about this.  Why are you saying yes?"

"My lawyer told me it would be best to help counter the Block's narrative."  A disappointed rounding of the eyes had Claire quickly adding, "But mostly it's because I trust you.  I probably shouldn't.  You're a reporter and all, but if circumstances were different, I think we could be friends."

Elle leaned back, a quirk on her lips.  "Good.  I think we could be good friends too."

Claire held up a hand, stopping the reporter from continuing.  "I don't know anything about you."

"Are we playing Truth or Dare?"

"Just Truth."

The disappointment from Elle brought warmth to Claire's face. 

"I'm the third of four kids.  The others are all boys.  We grew up in Boulder, spent our time in the mountains, hiking, climbing, skiing, all that."


Elle held up her meticulously painted nails.  "These are real now, but when I was a kid they were always broken and chipped.  I went to journalism school in Missouri, paid for with scholarships and hustle.  My parents are artists with a dozen odd jobs between them."

"That sucks."

"Not at all.  We spent a lot of time outdoors, or creating.  They did jobs that didn't interfere with the life they wanted to lead.  I worked briefly for a small press in St. Louis after college, but wanted to be in the big city.  The Invictus Times didn't want to hire me at first, but I wrote an in-depth article about the clans of the Undercity which impressed them enough to overlook my lack of experience."

"The Undercity?  Isn't that dangerous?  Especially for someone without magic?" asked Claire.

"Sure, but there are settlements down there that are relatively safe.  Big Dave's Town.  Lazona.  I tried to get invited to the Terreno, but they don’t really let outsiders there."

Claire revised her opinion of Elle.  She'd thought the brightly colored dress and attention to detail with her fashion meant that she'd come from a wealthy family.  What she saw now was someone who was living exactly as she wanted.

"Are you ready to really dig into your past?  Circumstances of your parents' accident, school life, etc.?" asked Elle with her pen raised above the notebook.

"I am."

Elle moved to click the recording device, but Claire stopped her. 

"Before we begin again, I should clarify something you said earlier."

Elle tilted her head.

"It was ninth grade behind the gym and our braces got stuck together for about five minutes."

The reporter's smile couldn't have been wider.

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Thomas K. Carpenter

Thomas K. Carpenter is a full time contemporary fantasy author with over 50 independently published titles. His bestselling, multi-series universe, The Hundred Halls, has over 25 books and counting. His stories focus on fantastic families, magical academies, and epic adventures.

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